Within months of passing on Damian Lillard, Sacramento have decided to give away the player they picked instead of him. Seemingly already disenfranchised with their big man out of Kansas, they traded him for another one, and a jump-shooting backup big man, rather than wait it out. This accords with Sacramento’s grand plan, that of dumping valuable young assets to open up negligible amounts of financial flexibility, then spending it on backups. At the very least, they got Patrick Patterson this time.
Patterson broke out this year as a scorer, scoring 11 points in 25 minutes per game, and doing so at just short of 52 percent shooting with a mostly face-up game. He has occasional three-point range and a fantastic mid-range jumper — it’s not hard to project those two things being the inverse of each other some day soon, as that is the way the jump-shooting big man tends to go. Channing Frye was in a similar situation once. Patterson scores, and scores efficiently, without needing much of the playbook to do so. For this reason, he projects as a useful role player for several years. However, Sacramento’s unimpressive recent record on player development isn’t the place for someone with such big holes in his game. Patterson doesn’t box out, doesn’t defend any position, and isn’t tough enough to rectify those problems. He’ll make some jumpers, some fast break dunks, and occasionally carry the team for a quarter, but there’s an awful lot to do.
The rest of the deal has little bearing on Sacramento’s end product. Francisco Garcia will be a mildly useful defender and shooter for a year, but is essentially irrelevant, robbed of his talent by multiple injuries. So are likely to be Tyler Honeycutt (a once tantalizing prospect who hasn’t gotten anywhere, not helped by injuries), Cole Aldrich (same, except with the injuries) and Toney Douglas (whose offensive game still hasn’t recovered from whatever it was that caused him to lose it). Everyone else is a backup, only ever going to be backups, and either expiring or unguaranteed.
This trade is essentially Robinson for Patterson, or, more accurately, Robinson for Patterson and cash. Despite in the process of being sold to owners who ostensibly won’t need to do so, the Kings continue to cut costs, costing themselves high draft picks in the process. Trading for Patrick Patterson saves them half a million dollars next season, plus the cost of Robinson’s final two seasons (both of which are option years anyway), while landing them a player that is essentially a simple upgrade to the remnants of Travis Outlaw. And yet if it hadn’t been for Outlaw’s unnecessarily and fully guaranteed four-year, $12 million contract hanging on the books, that money wouldn’t have needed saving anyway. They could have had Lillard or Andre Drummond — instead, they have two Travis Outlaws and two extra 10th men they won’t re-sign.
Houston, meanwhile, buys extremely low on a player with double-double potential, and sells high on one without it. Indisputably, Robinson has struggled badly thus far in his NBA career, but four months of a difficult adjustment period do not negate the potential he showed in college. Four years might, but Robinson has plenty of time to find his way offensively and defensively in the bigs. Moving Patterson for him, and moving Marcus Morris in a somewhat unnecessary but ultimately irrelevant move, gives plenty of minutes for Robinson to learn in, on a Harden-led team that will do a much better job of getting him decent looks offensively. After all, minutes and open looks were all it took for Patterson to break out. (The same could also be said of Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. But let’s give it a few hours to see if the Rockets trade them first.)
Narratives that Houston did this as a means to posture for a later Dwight Howard move are perhaps ambitious. (And I say this as a man to have posited this theory before.) The Rockets don’t open up any significant money with this deal — the savings on the life of Morris’ and Patterson’s contracts are not as great as the amount taken on in Robinson’s, and while the deals do open up $1.5 million in cap room next summer, that’s secondary to the Robinson acquisition. Nonetheless, that amount was the primary reason for the concurrent Morris deal, and thus is a small factor in play down the road. What Houston mainly achieved is, in theory, locking in a better young piece than the two they sent out, taking a small backwards step in the short term to do so. It’s a strategy that is hard to fault when you’re a low playoff seed at best, although it does rely upon more favorable projection of Robinson’s career than that which we have seen so far.
Considering he’s now out of Sacramento, though, that seems fair.